Friday, March 18, 2016

The Cedar Cultural Center 3-12-16

Playing the Cedar Cultural Center has been a dream venue of mine for a long time. Technically, I've played it before - as part of Prairie Fire Lady Choir they let me sing a few of my own songs during one of their shows there. BUT, I've always wanted to play a full set with a full band there and last weekend I got to!

I was contacted by The Cedar to see if we were available to open for a touring act coming through town called The Prettiots. I was super excited. They asked us right before I left for London (OMG I have to write about London at some point!) and so it was great to know I had something to look forward to when I came back. Coming back from awesome vacations can sometimes be so depressing - at least for me. You look forward to something for so long and then you do it and then it's over.

The sound at The Cedar is top notch and the staff is incredible. They helped us load in. They took care of our merch. They treated us well in the green room. And we got an hour to sound check! This was such a luxury. As someone who is used to playing bars where sound check consists of 5 minutes before your set you go and strum the instruments and test the mic in front of the audience while they all stare at you - this was so great. It was wonderful to hear every instrument on stage perfectly clear while performing.

The Prettiots were delightful. It was a pleasure to open for them.

The Prettiots

I really hope we get to play there again someday.

Backstage shenanigans

Set List for The Cedar Cultural Center 3/12/16
  • For the Time Being
  • Lens
  • Running
  • The Reminder
  • I Wanna Know
  • Blink
  • Daughter
  • Float
  • The Party
  • Reactor
  • When You Were Mine (Prince cover)
  • Safety Mode
  • Introvert

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

331 Club 2-5-16

Things are getting pretty nutty lately. Day job stuff is super busy and cramming my brain. Then I'm heading to London and Edinburgh on my first full week vacation in over 6 years very soon! I am so excited! But also so nervous that I am going to get sick beforehand because I am a crazy person and it seems like everyone I work with is coming down with some awful cold right now and I have 9 days before I leave and I just don't want to catch it. I haven't been on a proper vacation in so long and it's a big trip that I have been waiting to do for so long and it's expensive and I just don't want to be sick while I'm there. I don't think that's too much to ask, right? Sigh.

Anyway, I'm a bit of a lunatic right now when it comes to being around people.

But that's not what this post is about, is it?

I played a show a few weeks ago at the 331 Club again. I've said it before and I will continue to say it, but that place is my most favorite place to play. So I guess it's a good thing I play there a lot. : )

We were playing as part of the band Demolition Means Progress's CD release show. It was only the two bands on the bill so we had to play a little longer than usual, which is always fun. It made things a bit more relaxed and forced us to slow down a bit when we play.

331 Club Set List 2-5-16
  • For the Time Being (solo)
  • Float
  • Running 
  • The Reminder
  • Reactor
  • Daughter
  • Lens
  • Return (first time played!)
  • Blink
  • Safety Mode
  • When You Were Mine
  • Beg, Borrow, or Steal
  • Introvert
  • Adore

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Aster Cafe 12-30-15

We had ourselves a ladies night at The Aster Cafe last month. Myself, Laura and Colleen played a set opening for Katy Vernon as part of her Wednesday night December residency. It's always fun to strip the songs down to the bare bones. Just vocals and guitar. It was nice way to close out the year.

We also were tasked with singing a song that references the new year or New Years Eve or something along those lines. Laura suggested we cover U2's "New Year's Day" - so we did. I know the song, but I didn't KNOW the song, you know? It's been in my life for nearly all of my life so I am familiar with, but I was never super into U2 and only ever have bought one album of theirs. I spent a week learning the words. The three of us got together and put together a vocal arrangement and ta-da! New cover! I thought it turned out well. Unfortunately, I have no video or audio of it, but maybe we'll do it again down the road.

Set List for The Aster Cafe 12-30-15
  • For the Time Being
  • The Reminder
  • I Wanna Know
  • Daughter
  • Beg, Borrow, or Steal
  • New Year's Day (U2 cover)
  • Blue Whale
Happy to say I have some additional shows on the calendar again. Both at the 331 Club.

Friday, February 5th
Wednesday, March 23rd

Hope to see you!


Friday, January 1, 2016

My Year In Music: 2015 Edition

It was a very busy year musically for me.  The first half was full of crazy Kickstarter/ album release madness. But madness in a good way. I mean, the result was a new album! Reactor.

I'm very proud of this album. I knew what I wanted to make going into it and we accomplished that. There were a lot of new elements - from me playing the electric guitar more often than usual to the addition of backing vocalists Colleen and Laura Borgendale, who just brought so much pretty to the album. It's a rock album. Deep down I've always wanted to make a rock album. 

And, more importantly, it's a band album. This album is only here because of my band. They take all the sounds I have in my head and make them real. Then they take all the amazing sounds in their heads that I never even thought of and make the songs something really cool. So grateful for every single one of them.

One of the best parts about making this album, though, was the Kickstarter campaign. I was constantly overwhelmed in the best way by all of the generosity that came in along the way. We made  our goal with a day to spare and even went a little over. 

We had a fun release show at the Eagle's Club and were joined by two of my favorite bands in town, Catbath and Strange Relations

We even had our first t-shirts made!

The album received some nice press from City Pages (including an interview you can read HERE), Star Tribune and It even made Rift Magazine's Top Local Albums of the Year List...

City Pages: "Becker's music is a reaction to the reality of life, a kick back: cool, ordered, measured, gloomy, and introspective. As humans, we often project one thing and feel another. This album manages to be endearingly close despite all these things."

Star Tribune: "There’s a lot of romantic push and pull on Twin Cities rocker Niki Becker’s new album, “Reactor,” ranging from the get-out-of-my-face anger of the title track to the love chased down in the frazzled gem “Running.” With a Chrissie Hyde-like drollness (she) now has a hard-wired band to push and pull from musically." "Everything about this new album feels disarmingly authentic, and in her unpretentious voice, life lessons at times are hard won....Becker’s vocals completely capture your attention, suggestive of Chrissie Hynde, though less contrived...Becker and the band, seamlessly create moods that entreat you to invest emotionally...Becker clearly has that “something”, that something that can’t be created, or bought. An intuitive artist, and an uncontrived performer, she has made Reactor of her essence. A work that is neither simple, nor elaborate, but just right."

89.3 The Current: "Niki Becker is back with her Reactor release. It’s a twangy, folky, and broodingly eclectic mix of stories, with catchy guitar parts and Becker’s distinctive voice. Her vocals on “The Reminder” are like dew on the grass. The words seem to hang on her lips for a moment before the next lyric arrives."

It was also a big hit in St. Cloud, MN!

I made two videos for the album. The firs one for "Running" was a bit by accident. Bored at home one day I just started filming random things with my phone and then decided to make a music video on a whim...

About the video from City Pages: "Niki Becker is back with "Running," the smoldering second single drawn from her forthcoming new album, Reactor. The track fluidly blends a rustic Americana sound with a stylish touch of soul, as Becker's smoky vocals rise above the ominous guitar churn that pushes the track forward. Becker filmed and edited the new video herself, providing an intimate, fractured glimpse into her creative heart that complements the song perfectly."

As for the video for "The Reminder", that was a bit more planned out as I went into it knowing it would be a video for that song...

We played a lot of really fun shows this year. Our first show of 2015 was a 2+ hour set at the Minneapolis Photo Center's Rock N' Roll Exhibition Opening Night Reception. It was a beautiful room with amazing photographs everywhere. It was jam packed. We had to learn some covers. We chose to do Blondie "One Way or Another", Prince "When You Were Mine", the Cowboy Junkie's version of "Sweet Jane", The Beatles "Don't Let Me Down" and Rolling Stones "Satisfaction".

In March we took part in a Sofar Sounds session. Sofar Sounds is an international music community that puts on living room shows around the world. They film them. It's great. I've always wanted to do one and was thrilled to be asked. Shawn and I played in a gorgeous home along with Warehouse Eyes and Jessica Manning to a room full of very attentive music appreciators. I look forward to some day hopefully seeing the video from this night.

The rest of the spring was spent gearing up for the Reactor release show and fulfilling Kickstarter promises.

Post-release show we got ready for a very busy August (Shawn, Colleen, Laura and I also made a pit stop at The Nomad in July). In August we had a Tuesday night residency at my favorite place to play, 331 Club. Residencies are always fun. You get to play every week with bands you enjoy.

Oh, and I also got a new guitar the first week of August! Finally. My own electric. It is has changed everything. I love it so much.

And Colleen and Laura and I got to swing by KFAI for an in studio session on the Womenfolk Radio Show. Always a pleasure to chat with Ellen and I am so grateful for her support.

We also squeezed in a show at the new Como Dockside. It was an outdoor show luckily out on a covered patio as the weather is very unfriendly. But we made it through. I broke a string at the end of the set and probably could have handled it better/been more prepared. But we muddled through it. Lesson learned.

We closed out our summer of shows with a set at the Lake Harriet Bandshell. This was amazing. It was a gorgeous evening. It was a full house full of people there to enjoy live music. Oddly that can be a rarity where you're out playing live music. ; )

After the Lake Harriet show, I settled in and prepared myself for my hysterectomy. I've written about how all that went down already. I'm very happy to say that I am basically back to normal and back to life.

My first show back post-surgery was at The Dubliner. I played a solo set. Debuted some new songs. It was a good way to get warmed back up after such a long hiatus. I also got to debut my new-to-me amp I was given after a friend of mine moved to London and couldn't take it with him. I love it. It makes such a huge difference.

I made a little EP all by myself. I had been kind of working on it over the year. It's just 3 songs that I thought went well together. I put it up on Bandcamp for free as a thank you to everyone for their support this year. It's called Suzy, Leonora, and James and this is it:

The band and I returned just a couple weeks ago at the 331 Club for Battlerat's EP release show. It felt so good to play with everyone again. And we debuted a new song called "Blink".

And then I closed out the year with Colleen and Laura at The Aster Cafe. It was a short set (we played for a little over 20 minutes). But it was a sweet one and a very cool way to end this year.

Looking ahead to 2016, not sure where it will take me. The band and I are heading into January spending it working on new songs. I have no shows booked at the moment (yikes!) but I hope to rectify that soon. I would LOVE to put out more music by the end of the year, but we'll see.

No matter what, though, music will be played. Have a great 2016!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 In Pictures, Part 1

Prairie Homes
First show of the year - Mpls Photo Center Rock N' Roll Exhibit Opening Night

Post-show shenanigans
Recording Reactor
 Puppy Love
 Zoo Animal - The Amsterdam Bar and Hall
 Juliana Hatfield - The Turf Club
 Recording Reactor
 Window Looking
Easter Dog
First Warm Days
 Sex Rays
 Tea Times
 New Album Arrives
 Gramma's Boyfriend
 Fulfilling Kickstarter
Duluth Love
 Block Parties
Press Pics

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My Favorite Music Of 2015

It's December 29th and I haven't started one round up 2015 post yet. Normally I look forward to theses posts all year long. I've found myself consuming music with the idea that at the end of the year I will rank these things because making lists is fun. But, I'm finding it hard to rank music these day. Maybe it's because, as a musician, being ranked is weird. And not being ranked at all can make me a little sad. Feel forgotten. Maybe it's because I personally know a lot of people who made albums this year that I really enjoyed and it feels weird to not have them on the list because there were 10 others that maybe I listened to a little bit more. Or maybe it's because there were only two albums that I really really fell head over heels for and the rest of the rankings seem kind like kind of a random grouping of things I listened to a little more than others.

But is also too much fun to read these years later and see what has still held up and what might have changed. So all that is my favorite music of 2015.


Girlpool: Before the World Was Big
I kept hearing about this band around SXSW time. Based on the basic descriptions I was catching, I envisioned a very loud, punk, screaming group - but they are so far from that. I have nothing against the previous description. I enjoy a lot of bands with that vibe. But I just found Girlpool so simplisticly refreshing. Only an electric guitar, bass, and two vocals in wonderful harmony singing songs about swimming in Seattle and childhood. They very much remind of The Murmurs, whom I loved back in the day. The plucky, staccato guitar riffs move along with the duo vocals perfectly. Sometimes the guitars are a little out of tune, but for whatever reason, that's okay. It's all the more endearing. This is just an album that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside - and it's great to sing along to. And that's all I ever ask.

Top Three Tracks: "Crowded Stranger", "Chinatown", "Cherry Picking"

Gramma's Boyfriend: PERM
Fronted by the fabulous Haley Bonar, Gramma's Boyfriend is a fun fun fun band. This album is full of danceable, new wave-esque, sometimes silly, sometimes pretty, always excellent numbers. Opener "Down in a Bucket" immediately hooks you with it's Go Team Go sports arena style guitars and synths and the rest of the album continues with hip-moving bass lines and crazy guitars. There's a lot of really great guitar stuff going on throughout. All of this is fronted by Haley's awesomely manic vocals. The band - a side project for nearly all members - claims it's not something they take seriously. Maybe this is a life lesson we should all grab hold of, because this is a great album. You can't not dance to it.

Top Three Tracks: "Little Lightening:, "Forgiven", "I Forgot!"

Erykah Badu: But You Cain't Use My Phone
Why do I always forget the greatness that is Erykah Badu? This album - or mix tape, as it's called - was released unexpectedly late December and it is just She is so cool. She might be the coolest. I've always loved her, but my album buying of hers never went past her debut Baduizm (which I LOVE) for whatever reason. But after getting this, I picked up another album of hers and she is all I want to listen to all the time now. Seriously, cool. The songs on this album all bleed into one another and mix and revolve around the topic of phones and communication and how we relate to each other. The album title comes from her song "Tyrone" which you must hear if you've never heard it. (Find it HERE).

Top Three Tracks: "Hello", "Cel U Lar Device", "Phone Down"

Rank Strangers: Lady President, Ringtones, The Box (Trilogy)
I feel I have been waiting for far too long for new Rank Strangers. I see them play all the time and they've had so many new songs for so long that I knew all the words to just from seeing them played live so often. I would always ask when to expect a new album and I was always told they were working on something...and that something turns out to be a trilogy of albums. It's oodles of Rank Strangers songs that I've loved for so long in three beautiful packages. I'm so happy to finally have these songs available to listen to when I want. And all of these other songs that they don't play live that are newly discovered. Rank Strangers make great rock music. Check'em out.

Top Three Tracks on each album:
Lady President: "The Children of the Czar", "Ivan After 5", "When the Pendulum Swings"
Ringtones: "As the World Turns", "Dust and Glue", "Destroy She Says"
The Box: "The Never Never", "King James", "The Empire of Dresses"

Joanna Newsom: Divers
Beautiful. Classical. Whimsical (though I hate to fall into that trap of describing her sound that way). Wordy. Joanna Newsom tells full epic novels in her songs, along with the occasional heart-wrentching love song, that will leave you breathless. I listen to her and I have no idea how anyone even begins to construct a song the way she does. And then there's the harp - her instrument of choice when she's not behind the piano. I watch her play the harp and listen to the sounds and it blows my mind. She is a truly gifted artist. There is no one else like her. I feel like she really is the only musician who can say that. Oddly, tho, like her previous album Have One On Me, it's her use of percussion that draws me on. It's used like a melodic instrument. Not just something to keep the beat. It feels as much a part of the song as the piano or vocal. It has feeling. It has heart. Her music is not for everyone - and I don't mean that in a snobby way. There's usually not much for hooks and her voice is one of those you either love or hate. And did I mention the harp? But once you sit with her albums and really soak them in, you can't help but fall in love.

Top Three Tracks: "Time As A Symptom", "Goose Eggs", "The Things I Say"

Wilco: Star Wars
 Another album that just sort of dropped out of the sky. Wilco released this album unexpectedly and for free. I enjoy Wilco quite a bit, but I'm not someone who runs out the second they release something to buy it. But this was free, so I got it right away. The title has nothing to do with the movie, btw. The songs all have a general sound and vibe to them. It's a rock record. but a laid-back, dad-rock kinda rock record. The fuzzed-out electric guitar that appears on nearly every track brings a cohesive-ness and coolness to the album. It's an album that I can't quite pin-point exactly why I like it so much, I just do. I guess, it's just a collection of good songs.

Top Three Tracks: "Where Do I Begin?", "The Joke Explained", "Taste the Ceiling"

Beach House: Depression Cherry
Depression Cherry was released in August and then, as was the trend this year, they released another album, Thank Your Lucky Stars, unexpectedly in October. Both are very similar albums. Beach House don't tend to stray too far from their signature sound. And that's fine. Because they are really good at it. Dreamy, ethereal, pop. This album was a constant for me when I was recovering from my surgery. It will always be tied to that time of my life. I find their music to be very soothing. You drift off in it. Grab a glass of wine and put it on.

Top Three Tracks: "Space Song", "PPP", "Wildflower"

Erica Russo: In Between Dreams
Erica Russo is such a weird artist for me. Not because of anything to do with her. Just because I never would know who she was if she didn't contact me out of nowhere and asked me to play a show with her as she traveled through Minneapolis on her tour. She's out of New York and doing well for herself, but the randomness of my connection to her is something I find interesting. I think she's fantastic. Her way with lyrics is special. I'd liken her to another favorite lyricist of mine, Anais Mitchell. She made this album completely on her own. Playing all the instruments, handling the recording. It feels very drawn from within. It's a bit eerie. It's another one that was with me a lot while I was recovering from surgery.

Top Three Tracks: "Dreamcatcher", "Barnacle", "So Tired"

Murder Shoes: Daydreaming
I hate to use the term 'local band" as that implies that they are trapped within the city they are from. And I don't think that's the case with Murder Shoes. I first heard them when our songs from our new albums were debuted on The Current's Local Show the same night. I really liked them and asked them to join me for a show some time. They ended up playing my residency at the 331 Club. If you remember that song "Sometime, Always" from the 90s - a duet between Hope Scandoval of Mazzy Star and The Jesus and Mary Chain, then you know what Murder Shoes sounds like. Fuzzed out dream pop. They also have a lot of humor in their songs, like in "Reefer and Pizza" and "Girls Named Benji". I was listening to this the other night again and wondered how this could not make my Top 10. So here it is.

Top Three Tracks: "Girls Named Benji", "So What May", "Can You Sea Me?"

Matt Latterell: Phase & Field
Beautiful album driven by complex songwriting that speaks to your soul. Matt puts it all out there when he sings and with his words, leaving nothing behind. The songs surprise you. What may at first seem to be a nice little acoustic ditty can suddenly take a turn into completely unexpected territory.

Top Three Tracks: "And I'll Never Let You Go", "Two Tornados", "Surprise Inspection"

Beirut: No No No
Another modern-day classical album. Beirut's lead singer/songwriter's main instruments are the trumpet and ukulele. So already how can I not love it? It's a bit orchestral. A bit baroque. I imagine puffy sleeves and rosy red checks and powdered wigs tip-toe dancing through a ballroom when I listen to this album. It's elegant. Another one to go with that glass of wine (or bottle).

Top Three Tracks: "So Allowed", "At Once", "August Holland"

EL VY: Return to the Moon, Strange Relations: Centrism, Blur: The Magic Whip, Mary Bue: Holy Bones, Fury Things: VHS, Katy Vernon: Present, The Juliana Hatfield Three: Whatever My Love

(not featured on the favorite albums listed above)

Belle and Sebastian: "Nobody's Empire"

Catbath: "Ta Da"

Lizzo: "BGSW"

Noel Gallagher: "Do the Damage"

EL VY: "Paul Is Alive"

Zoo Animal: "Delicate"

SOAK: "Sea Creatures"

My Morning Jacket: "Get the Point"

Beach House: "Somewhere Tonight"

Oh, yeah...also, I released an album in 2015. Reactor. Listen below.

And then I released an EP just for the fun of it. You can listen to that below, too.

Looking forward to all of the music that is coming out in 2016 - including maybe new stuff from me, too? Maybe? Hmmmm....